National

Australian Public Service still losing the war against sickies

<i>Illustration: Cathy Wilcox</i>
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox 

Public servants at the government's largest department took more than three weeks off work on average in the past year in "unscheduled absence," mostly sickies.

Public service departments are now forming sickie-busting units as new evidence emerges that the federal bureaucracy is still losing the battle to get its staff to show up for work each day.

The 35,000-strong Human Services has reported another increase in its rate of unscheduled absences with the average full-time public servant at DHS failing to front for work on 16.25 days in the 2013-2014 financial year.

DHS' annual report reveals the department, where staff consistently record the highest incidence of no-shows among large public service agencies, lost ground in 2013-2014 in its battle against sickies.

The unscheduled absence result for 2013–14 was 16.26 days per FTE (full time equivalent) staff member, an increase on 15.97 days per FTE in 2012–13, the report says.

The worsening result comes despite the department saying it had released its new attendance strategy to all staff.

"The Attendance Strategy 2013–2017: supporting a healthy and engaged workforce is a foundation document to guide the direction of the department to improve attendance management."

The department says its business units were using the strategy among rank-and-file DHS workers and "examining staff engagement issues and barriers".

Managers and supervisors in the department are being encouraged to go to "Positive Attendance for Managers" and "Early Intervention" training programs.

Bosses are also being told to make attendance goals part of performance expectations for individuals and teams, and to work harder to prevent workplace injuries and to get long-term absentees back to their desks.

Meantime, the Agriculture Department, the third worst performer among large APS outfits on sickies, says it has formed teams to target areas of its operations around the country where the levels of absenteeism is above average.

"People Services Coaches" have been appointed to each of Agriculture's regional management teams who will drill bosses on techniques to get their workforces to show up each morning.

In its annual report, which fails to include 2013-2014 unscheduled absence figures, Agriculture says it has worked throughout the financial year to improve its record on sickies.

 "The department has dedicated a small number of staff to better support managers and employees in areas where absence levels are higher," the report states.

"We are focusing on improving health and safety performance, as compensation leave accounts for a large proportion of unscheduled absences."

Agriculture has consistently said its public servants have more hazardous jobs than the average bureaucrat with many of the department's staffers working in abattoirs, docks and airports, or undertaking surveillance activities in remote areas of Australia.

Other poor performers on unscheduled absence, the Australian Taxation Office, the Infrastructure Department and Health Department, are yet to publish their annual reports.

Do you know more? Send your confidential tips to ps@canberratimes.com.au

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